Although written in the same style as the forgettable The Currents of Space, this novel has a better story. A 62 year old retired tailor from 20th century Chicago is transported to a future earth so poor that citizens are euthanized at 60. His arrival and subsequent actions change the world. If you want to read Asimov (and you should), read the Robot books or Foundation instead.
Incidentally, this particular cover uses one of my favorite pieces of art of all time, by the late Peter Elson.
Typical Asimov fare, in which our hero Rik is mindwiped and abandoned. Naturally, the information in his mind which he can no longer remember will bring down the reigning world order and so on. Not one of Asimov’s best, with an annoying lack of descriptions for environments and so on.
In many cases, when an author tries to tackle an utopian future, in which large parts of humanity are without want (if there is such a thing) and live a very good life, the effort falls flat. During the first fifty pages or so, I was indeed worried. Things soon looked up, however. First of all, there is trouble in paradise, both internal and external. Secondly, there are cool people, such as our hero, superagent Ian Cormac. Thirdly, there are cool gadgets, like self-aware shuriken. Interestingly, most of human society is controlled by AIs, probably since they seem to be doing a better job than humans ever did.
In an unforgettable exchange, it is explained that AIs have the power of self-determination since it is programmed into them.Â On the other hand “biologicals” do not, because they have biological imperatives to breed and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, even though the ending left me a bit puzzled. What the heck was going on there?
A classic, hilarious romp in which invading aliens are defeated by Middle Age knights. The knights take over their ship and don’t stop until they rule the whole alien empire. Completely unserious, and therein lies the charm.
I had been curious about Wolfe for a while and this one was lying around my wife’s bookshelf staring at me. Hooked within three pages! Despite the introduction (which is not really connected to the novel itself) being on the borderline of annoyingly self-serving, I liked that too. It mirrors many of my own feeling about navelgazing literary fiction, although of course Wolfe puts it far better than I could. What’s the point when the “real world” is so much more appealing?
The story is set in New York during the great roaring eighties, and Sherman McCoy, a bond trader on Wall Street, finds himself in big trouble with the law. The story sprawls over a vast territory, following lawyers, activists, reporters and socialites as they lead their lives. Each person’s life is affected by the McCoy case. For some, the encounter is gentle; for some, it is career enhancing; for some, it is disastrous. The characters are wonderfully described and Wolfe manages to get inside the head of each one, describing and explaining their fears and motivations masterfully. A truly magnificent work and, in it’s own way, a declaration of love for New York and it’s wondrous diversity.
This novel is set in the same universe and time period as “Freehold“. It is the story of Kenneth Chinran, the man who led the attacks on Earth during the Freehold War. It is a long novel divided into three parts. In the first, Ken enlists and is trained as an “Operative”, meaning an elite black ops soldier. The second part deals with a deployment to Mtali, a planet locked in faction warfare. It is here that first learns of the atrocity or war. The third part deals with the training for, and actual covert attack on Earth, in which billions of civilians die as a result of his team’s action.
The story is told in the first person. We see the world through Ken’s eyes. The transformation that he undergoes makes for an unusual bildungsroman. From innocent youth to trained killer, to disillusioned soldier, and finally on to mass murderer to some and possibly faceless hero to others. The frightening message of this book is that he is well justified in doing what he does. His nation of Freehold has been attacked for the crime of merely existing. Freehold believes in libertarianism to the extreme. There aren’t any elections because there simply isn’t very much government. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants, but on the other hand there is no safety net. Freeholders tend to be self-reliant and independent. This is contrasted with Earthlings, who are passive inhabitants of a corrupt system where egalitarianism and “fairness” have been taken to absurd extremes. Ken Chinran contemptously refers to them as “sheeple” who wait for “someone to do something” in a crisis instead of standing up and improving their lot. Williamson’s characterization is extreme, but these are clear jabs at many present dayÂ societies, where people wait for handouts and are happy to give government more power over them as long as they are given food and entertainment (“bread and circuses” is of course an ancient concept). While the book can get a bit preachy at times, the fact that Ken is telling the story makes it very direct. This is one person who comes into contact with things that disgust him, and how he reacts to them. It is easy to see his point of view, especially in these times where supposedly democratic and free countries have seizures without trial and a myriad pointless laws.
The development of Ken himself is as frightening as the story. His training is designed to make him a killer. He and his fellow Operatives take pride in their skills, taunting their enemies as they themselves take insane risks. In the end, though, his conscience catches up with him. He hates himself, he hates his commanding officer for ordering him to do what he has done. Nevertheless, he knows that it was necessary. He knows that what he did, the mass killings and the destruction of society on Earth, were necessary things in order not only for Freehold, but for free people to survive. It is interesting, and Williamson touches on this several times, how Ken survives his suicide mission, but finds out that giving his life would have been easier. He has given more than his life. He has sacrificed his soul.
Not since I first read “On Basilisk Station” have I been quite so captured by a Military SciFi novel. Williamson’s first Science Fiction book is in many ways controversial in it’s views (for the record, the author does claim they are not really “his” views in his comments on Amazon.com) and will no doubt disturb some with its sexual content. Some part will probably shock you at one point or another, but it remains a great adventure story.
Kendra Pacelli is in the UN Military. Earth and a few colonies are ruled by a deeply socialistic UN (evolved into a nation) in which incompetence and mediocrity are the norm. Crime is so common that women have learned accept rape and muggings as just another part of life. Accused of a crime she did not commit, she is forced to seek asylum at the Freehold of Grainne. Unprepared and dropped in at the deep end, Kendra has to adapt fast to her new home. The Freehold is an example of almost pure capitalism/libertarianism (and thus basically the antichrist in the eyes of the UN). The government consists of a small police force, the military, the courts and nothing else. The tiny taxation is optional but does carry some benefits. “Rulers” (and they are not really) have to give up personal wealth in order to ensure they do not have ulterior motives. Without big government there is no pork barreling or corruption. Residents tend to carry weapons. Crime is very low and standard of living is very high. Kendra is very confused by such things as the fact that no one will molest women who wear racy clothing (or even walk around in the buff). Of course, these women will typically carry guns or knives, an illegal thing on Earth.
As a thought exercise, the society is very interesting. I don’t know if it would work, but many aspects are appealing. It is my experience that big government typically fosters incompetence, inefficiency, meddling where it is not needed, high taxation levels and mediocre services. I don’t know if I would go quite so far as the Freehold, but as I said, it definitely has appeal. Before you start flaming my inbox, however, I would point out that the system does have many rather obvious flaws which I will not bother to enumerate here.
While the novel is part social commentary, it should not be seen as any sort of manifesto. It is a bit slow (but quite enjoyable) in the first half, and then becomes action-packed (and even more enjoyable) in the second half. Williamson shows that he can really describe military training and combat. Kendra joins the Freehold military and the story follows her through training, a grueling guerilla campaign, a big climactic battle and finally the hell of urban combat. All this without any dressing up or glorification of combat itself. The “good guys” torture and kill out of necessity, often rage, sometimes even pleasure. The aftermath of battle and war, so often glossed over in this kind of story, is explored in gory detail. While we may seek to (and indeed should) glorify valor and bravery in defense of comrades and homes, Williamson also reminds us of the deep personal and social toll that war enacts. For this alone, he should be commended.
The evolution of Kendra kept me turning the pages. Her personal odyssey through initial rejection, dejection, disillusionment and the furnace of both partisan and line combat is what elevates this novel from a mere adventure story to a minor Military SciFi classic.
If you like Military SciFi, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Just ensure you have tissues handy for Chapters 11 and 54, and clear your calendar for the next days or two. It is very hard to put down.
A Fire Upon the Deep. Hi-tech meets lo-tech in a story with some rather interesting takes on physics and sentience. Don’t be surprised it you don’t understand anything for a hundred pages or so. It gets easier. A fantastic view of the universe, and amazing aliens. A great journey.
A Deepness in the Sky. Chronologically a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep but apart from being in the same universe and having one character who appears in both they are completely unrelated. Interstellar travel is slow, and sometimes plans take decades to come to fruition. A mission to a mysterious star finds fascinating aliens who live on a planet with some pretty extreme climate. The mission itself is subverted by tyrants. The novel follows both the aliens and the humans as they both struggle towards the climactic conclusion: Contact!
This novel is published both as a singleton and in the omnibus edition Across Realtime together with its prequel The Peace War.
The sequel to “The Peace War” jumps 50 million years into the future. The 300 remaining humans travel forward through the eons with Bobbles, the invulnerable stasis fields introduced in “The Peace War”. One of them is left behind. The only remaining cop in the world must solve the mystery of why she had to die marooned in “realtime” while the rest jumped ahead in time. This book is absolutely fantastic. The factional disputes, the feeling of disconnection, the sheer human suffering of losing everything you ever knew, is portrayed masterfully. It delves deeply into the question of what should we, as humans, really do with our lives and our race. Some wish to recreate the human race now that enough people are simultanously “in realtime” (not in stasis). Some with to travel forward through the eons and see what awaits at the end of the universe. Some, it would seem, want to continue the nationalist struggles of a long-lost past. What a ride!
This novel is published both as a singleton and in the omnibus edition Across Realtime together with the sequel Marooned in Realtime.
The “Peace Authority” has stopped war by encasing warring factions in impenetrable force fields known as “bobbles” created by the “Bobbler”. Then all high technology was banned. Fifty years later, the inventor of the Bobbler leads a revolution.
Vinge skillfully describes the human condition in this very odd future world. While most humans are poor, the Peace Authority has set itself up as a sort of benevolent dictatorship, but it has stagnated technologically. The Tinkers, under the ad-hoc leadership of Paul Naismith, inventor of the Bobbler, have advanced electronics well beyond those of the Authority. The Authority’s blind spot is that it cannot believe the Tinkers are so advanced when high energy applications are banned.
There is a little of everything here. A coming of age story, love lost and hope for its resumtion, honor, loyalty, betrayal. Vinge uses the plot device of the bobbler and the bobbles to great effect, and meticulously exhausts the implications of the technology’s effect on humanity.
Space Opera in the spirit of Horatio Hornblower. Action, adventure and all that. And really good. Although I feel that Weber has lately slackened off a little, and is given to perhaps excessive verbosity in his tangents, I still eagerly await each new release.
On Basilisk Station (HH I) – Arguably still the best Honor book. Lots of action, but also humor and great characters. This kind of editing would do the books after 6 good..
The Honor of the Queen (HH II) – An incredible ride.
The Short Victorious War (HH III) – Long on the action, short on the characters. But that’s fine 😉
Field of Dishonor (HH IV) – Weber shows how even Honor has a dark side, and it’s very dark.
Flag in Exile (HH V) – An interesting character study of Honor.
Honor Among Enemies (HHVI) – Perhaps my favorite Honor. A great story of redemption.
More than Honor (Anthology)
In Enemy Hands (HH VI) – Very exciting but not quite as good as books 1 through 6.
Echoes of Honor (HH VIII) – Great storyline, but unfortunately Weber’s style is slipping by this point, with overlong exposition and contrived dialogue among the still great action.
Worlds of Honor (Anthology)
Ashes of Victory (HH IX) – Losing steam, which unfortunately stays lost in “War of Honor”.
Changer of Worlds (Anthology)
War of Honor (HH X) – Pretty ho-hum compared to the others. Definitely an interim book.
The Service of The Sword (Anthology)
At All Costs (HH XI) – This definitely shows a partial comeback of Weber’s old form. Although he still hems and haws his way through dialogue, the action is great and the stakes are high.
Some of the stories in the anthologies contain background for later novels, so it is rather important to read them as part of the sequence.
Around War of Honor (HH X) The Honorverse branches off with the “Saganami Island” and “Crown of Slaves” series.
I can’t add very much to what has already been said about these books. One of the remarkable achievements of The Lord of the Rings is that it has firmly made a place for itself in the mainstream, without so much as a deprecating comment about it being fantasy. The Hobbit is more of a children’s book, and not really necessary to read in order to understand the story, but it is still a delightful tale and gives quite a bit of useful background. There are about a zillion different editions, but the complete cycle is composed of:
The sequel to the wonderful Red Thunder does not disappoint. A generation after the events of Red Thunder, the children of Ray Garcia and Kelly Strickland are growing up on Mars. An unexplained impact in the Atlantic and a consequent tsunami to dwarf all previous tsunamis are catalysts for the action. But this is not a disaster novel. It’s a novel about how Ray Garcia-Strickland grows from just another teenager into a man. Told strictly in Varley’s favored first person, we see the world through the eyes of an adolescent who wants to be a man but hasn’t quite figured out how yet. The tone is authentic and as usual Varley delivers on his characters. Thoroughly well imagined and believable, they feel like old friends by the end.
Varley’s novels, and especially the Red Thunder series, leave me with a feeling of well being after every section I read. The characters are so likeable and authentic it makes me want to be with them, in their world. Add to that the long section set in a fascism-leaning America logically and quite frighteningly extrapolated from today’s fear of terrorism as a convenient excuse for governmental power grabbing (the historical parallels are remarkably sinister), and it makes for a great novel.
For some odd reason I had never read Varley, an author who was first published in 1977, before I picked up this book. After this experience, I realized my mistake. Red Thunder makes some rather preposterous assumptions in order to underpin a story. A decade or two from now, two lower class Florida youngsters dream of going to space. They and their girlfriends accidentally run into (actually run over) an ex astronaut who has fallen from grace. Said ex astronaut has a quasi autistic genius cousin who has accidentally invented an immensely efficient and cheap form of energy generation/propulsion. Seeing as the Chinese are on their way to being first to Mars and the American expedition will not only be second, but may well have an accident on the way, this motley crew builds a spaceship.
Appalled yet? Most authors would have made a hash of this and turned out unreadable drivel. But Varley concentrates on the people aspect. The whole thing becomes an excellent, funny and exciting coming of age story.
Another original, intelligent and inventive novel from John Varley. There is no clear plot or clearly defined progression of events. The action is in the first person, with frequent long flashbacks to childhood and early adulthood in the third person. Our hero, Kenneth “Sparky” Valentine, is an itinerant thespian and con man. The setting is Varley’s “Eight Worlds” universe, but the novels in “Eight Worlds” are only very looseky linked so there is no requirement to read them in order.
The story focuses on the figure of Sparky and his personal development. It is one part travelogue, showcasing the wonders of Varley’s Solar System, one part psychological investigation into Valentine’s very complex mind, and finally it is a coming of age story spanning a century (the Candide inspirations are obvious).
Varley manages to make his characters truly alive, and deftly ensures that their reactions and social mores chime well with their surroundings. I am not usually drawn to books without much of a plot, but I found myself fascinated by the unfolding mystery of Sparky as he made his way back to “the Golden Globe”.
This novel is set in Varley’s “Eight Worlds” Universe. It is the story, almost the chronicle, of Hildy Johnson, who also made an appearance in “The Golden Globe”. Steel Beach is the story of how Hildy Johnson didn’t commit suicide. That’s putting it crudely since the actual story is full of wonderful detail and nuance.
Hildy Johnson lives on Luna (the moon), a utopia with very long (perhaps even infinite) life, no real need to work and unprecedented personal freedom. Ironically, this personal freedom comes from having a very advanced Central Computer (the “CC”) run basically everything. Every citizen has a personal interface with he CC and can ask for any information at any time. Sex changes and other surgerical procedures are effortless and painless. Subcultures of all sorts thrive as people pursue what they really want to do. For example, large “Disney’s”, basically theme parks where you can even live, provide their inhabitants with life as it was in, say, an idealized Texas in the late 1800s. So life is pretty good. There’s just one problem: Hildy (who starts the novel as a man and ends it as a woman) keeps trying to commit suicide. The CC has noticed a rash of suicides and is trying to do something about them. He dragoons Hildy into helping him. Little does either know where this will land them or the rest of Luna.
The novel is about this, and much more. It is an exploration into what makes us human. Why do we live, exactly? What do we live for? Hildy is faced with the issue of having more or less infinite life ahead of him but no understanding of what he/she must do with it. The unbridled consumerism of Luna is not enough to give him/her purpose. And so he is endlessly seeking. Steel Beach is a wonderful exploration into the nature of humanity. But it is neither lecturing nor boring. The first person exposition is witty, whimsical, at times laugh out loud funny, while remaining insightful and interesting. I loved this book.
The series consists of four novels, though the first three are now published in one omnibus entitled The Domination.
Marching through Georgia
Under the Yoke
The Stone Dogs
The series can really shake you up. It is set in an alternate history in which the Crown Colony of the Cape (what later became modern day South Africa) becomes a powerful nation. This “Domination of the Draka” is utterly elitist and wishes to subjugate all other races to the white master race. It is also fiercely expansionist. At the time of our own timeline’s Second World War, the Domination drives a wedge between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany by invading through the Caucasus. The Domination then proceeds to conquer all of Europe and Asia (except for India), adding these territories to its African holdings. These events are detailed in the first book. The second book is about a spy expedition into Draka territory by the “Alliance for Freedom”, basically what is left of the free world (America and India). It is not quite as good as the rest of the series, and on rereading I have skipped over it completely as it is not essential to the story. The third book is about the final showdown between the two powers. The Alliance is more powerful in technology and the physical sciences, while the Domination, mostly thanks to a scruple free approach to human experiments (they’re just serfs, after all) is very advanced in genetics and bioengineering. The Draka win the war, and the “free” humans mount a last-ditch escape for a precious few to a nearby solar system.
Drakon is a change of pace. In a Draka future, the master race experiments with portals into alternate timelines. A Draka (daughter of the protagonists from The Stone Dogs) is stranded in one of these timelines (our own) and attempts to subjugate it to her will. This novel is much smaller in scope than the other three, but it remains a great read.
The scary thing about the Draka books is that you can easily find yourself rooting for “the bad guys”. These aren’t Hitler’s Nazis. The Draka want an ordered society and a life which does not use up the Earth’s resources without replenishing them. They do not see their use of “serfs” as immoral and they are not given to pettiness. Only ruthlessness. So apart from spinning a great yarn, Stirling is trying to tell us that many would choose the Draka way of life if they had the chance (well, the chance to be Draka). The Draka create an earthly paradise after their victory, and the average standard of living and intelligence of ALL men, including serfs, actually improves after the Draka victory. The series is controversial in this manner and really makes you think about some big issues. It is also a great military science fiction read.
This novel is the story of a radio astronomer who manages to detect a signal from space, and what happens after. The scope is large, but Sagan keeps it going smoothly forward to the incredible conclusion. The discussion of science versus religion is well done, and lacks the bitter antagonism which could easily have creeped in. Fills you with a sense of wonder like few other books, and while it makes you feel small in the Universe, it nevertheless manages to convey a message of hope and love.
I also loved the movie. It was faithful to the spirit of the book, but given the time constraints it did not delve into the interesting details of the book. Also, it glosses over the important and very engrossing religion vs. technology discussion.
This book explains… “everything”. In his great style, using “small words”, Sagan takes us on a wondrous journey through creation. Even if you are not interested in cosmology or physics, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Alien invasion stories have been done before, but to my knowledge never quite with this much desperation, lack of hope, or heroism on the part of the defenders. This is rich military SF with a keen eye for the strategic dimension and human psychology as well as kick-ass fun. The “original” series consists of the following.
A Hymn Before Battle
When the Devil Dances
The first novel is a sort of “eve of the war” story. I was put off by the cover for quite a while but eventually decided to give it a shot. Good thing too. Aliens have contacted Earth and told them of an ongoing war, and that the Posleen, a very powerful race with a behavior like a cannibalistic Mongol horde, is only five years out from Earth. The Galactics will help, if humans help them fight. The other races are pacifistic in the extreme. There is action (of course) in the form of skirmishes and the defence of an allied planet, and we are introduced to Mike O’Neal, later leader of an elite Armed Combat Suit unit and the main hero of the story.
The second novel covers the assault on Earth. As before, Ringo has a knack for describing the political and strategic dimensions, and is not afraid of throwing disastrous screwups, unexpected developments and plain old bad luck into the mix. The United States is hunkering down, but the question is: Will the line hold for the defenders to marshal their forces?
The third novel of the series is a middle book to bridge the gap between the first Posleen assault on Earth (covered in “Gust Front”) and the climactic conclusion to the war (covered in “Hell’s Faire”). Characters are developed and the stage is set for a whopping showdown. The action scenes are great, as in all Ringo’s work, and the humor just keeps getting better. It’s quite ironic that a story about alien invasion and massive destruction, suffering and pain can make me laugh out loud so much. Ringo is good at capturing the inner essence of characters. This three-dimensionality is welcome, and few authors pull it off so well. He is also very good at developing his characters as they go through events in their lives. Masterful.
The fourth novel picks up exactly where When the Devil Dances left off. In the afterword, Ringo says that the last two should only have been one, but 9/11 gave him serious writer’s block and plans had to change. He even suggests gluing them together. The conclusion is very exciting and satisfying. While many loose ends are tied up, other fundamental questions about the various aliens, which were only hinted at in the earlier books, are now dredged up and given new focus. Why didn’t the Galactics warn Earth earlier? Why did they give intelligence to the Posleen? To answer these questions the Universe is already much expanded, with several more novels written solo and in collaboration.
Scary in it’s placing of humanity firmly at the bottom of the Universe’s pecking order, this series of books contains some pretty big concepts. Worth reading just for the descriptions of cultures and aliens. Watch out though, Reynolds is not afraid of making the Universe a scary place. I refused to read Redemption Ark close to bedtime. I would just lay awake and shiver at the thought of how huge the universe is, and how short-lived and fragile we are.
Revelation Space – Cool, pure SF. The last few chapters give an inkling of what is to come in future installments, but the story also stands well by itself.
Redemption Ark – The sequel to Revelation Space, in which many questions are, err, resolved, or then again maybe not. Several hundred years in the future, the Inhibitors are back after eons, Their objective seems to be to eradicate sentient life. Scary scary scary.
Chasm City – The schizo prequel to Revelation Space, which scales back quite a bit from the epic back story and gives up a very convoluted plot of a man and his quest for identity. Good reading but does lose itself a little in the identity crisis of a very screwed up psyche.
Niven is at his best in collaboration, and this is no exception. Building Harlequin’s Moon is is a story in many layers. The main plot line is about the first interstellar starship, escaping a Sol System full of renegade AIs and nanotech, escaping to reclaim humanity. But there is a malfunction and the starship is stranded in a barren star system partway to its goal. More antimatter is needed to refuel the ship, and the colonists refuse to use nanotech due to their belief that nanotech leads to evil. The only option is to spend sixty thousand years (yes it’s a long time but they can extend their lifespans indefinitely) building a habitable moon out of smaller ones, and then populating it with flora, fauna, humans, and then finally industrializing and constructing a huge collider to make antimatter. Rachel is a “Moon Born” “Child”, basically a slave to the goal of ultimately fueling the ship. But what no colonist counted on was that the Children are human too, and once the cogs in the plan are live humans, you have to look them in the eye. The titanic endeavor is ambitious in the extreme, but is it worth the cost to their souls?
On another level, the story is about Rachel, from her rather innocent teenage years to her coming of age as a leader of her people. And on yet another level, it’s about what makes us human. Our values, our biology, our goals?
The rather slow style of the book suits the story well, and events are followed in a careful fashion as we move, never too fast, through the action.
Building Harlequin’s Moon is full of wonderful three dimensional characters. Niven & Cooper ensure that even the most seemingly irrational and heartless protagonist is well understood by the reader as they delve deeply into her motivations. This novel shows humans at their best and worst, and it is impossible not to be entranced by the adventures of Rachel, Gabriel and the others. This is quite simply a masterpiece.